Several questions popped up following the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament. Among them: Is there any truth to the rumor that Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt is about to bolt for the Atlantic 10? How can there be only one Sweet 16 team from west of Norman, Okla., but four species of Wildcat still on the prowl? And how might Mars Blackmon, the bespectacled, gold-chained rim-possum of the Air Jordan commercials, respond to what happened in these first two merry-go rounds? Serious. Very serious. Do you know what's going on here? Do you know, do you know, do you know?
Points, Mars. Points, points, points. Nine times a team broke into the 100's. On 17 other occasions teams found their way into the 90's, all without any help from Nevada-Las Vegas, which suddenly thought it was Princeton. Three years ago only one team broke 90 in the entire tournament.
You can thank (or blame) all the pressure defenses that every coach and his graduate assistant added to his team's repertoire after the success of Providence, UNLV and Iowa in last year's NCAAs. Blame (or thank) the tyrannical rules committee and its guiding bulb, Dr. Ed Steitz, the godfather of the three-point field goal. Nearly 7% more treys were made last week than in the first two rounds of the 1987 tournament. After a regular season in which the team with the longest ride atop the polls, 31-1 Temple, lost to UNLV, which lost to UC Santa Barbara, which lost to San Jose State, which lost to Michigan State, which lost to George Washington, which lost to American, which lost to Navy, which lost to Slippery Rock, there figured to be a few more slippery rocks and other oily obstacles to trip up the high seeds on their way to Kansas City.
But the three-pointer and pressure D both accelerate play, thus guaranteeing more possessions, thus ensuring that talent will prevail. Even the results that sent you reeling in the office pool—victories by Rhode Island, Loyola Marymount, Vanderbilt and Richmond—didn't astonish the cognoscenti. Little Rhody, the Vandy Gun Club and the stouthearted Lions all had taken a turn in the Top 20, while the Spiders, who are tournament veterans, aren't exactly eentsy-weentsy. "The teams are evenly matched," said Indiana's Bob Knight before Richmond upset his Hoosiers. And afterward: "I'm not surprised we lost this game."
While Murray State's 78-75 win over North Carolina State did seem to have a bewitched quality to it, the Racers' success shouldn't have startled those who had watched them on Late Night with the OVC, the Ohio Valley Conference's post-prime time slot on ESPN. After all, anybody who plays after midnight can't rightly be called a Cinderella.
Indeed, the only entity that turned into a pumpkin was the Big East. Six of its teams went in on Thursday and only one came out on Sunday—Villanova, and just barely. Having a ball was the Atlantic 10, which sent Temple and Rhode Island along as the East's new beasts. The league's ascendance was even sweeter because it came at the expense of its vaunted neighbor: Rhode Island disposed of supposedly mighty Syracuse, and Temple embarrassed Georgetown by 21 points. As Mars would say, That's cold. Very cold.
Considering the coaches on hand in Hartford—Indiana's Bob Knight, LSU's Dale Brown, Georgetown's John Thompson, Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins and Iowa State's Johnny Orr—this subregional deserved its own shoe contract. With such hallowed names abounding, it was refreshing to see Richmond and Temple emerge and, in the process, discredit the cult of the coach. "It's not me, and not my assistant coaches," said the Spiders' Dick Tarrant, a 58-year-old New Jerseyite who has to assure recruits that his school is indeed in Division I. "Good kids making good plays—that's how you win."
The Owls of John Chaney are much the same. They're drilled in those 5:30 a.m. practices to treat every possession with reverence, but then, at the tip-off, matters are put largely in the hands of senior point guard Howard Evans. "We don't play on emotion, because it only lasts a few minutes," says forward Mike Vreeswyk. "Our challenge is always against the game itself and not a particular opponent."
Temple beat Basketball twice as Evans distributed the work load. In the Owls' 87-73 first-round defeat of Lehigh, precocious freshman Mark Macon scored 18 first-half points, and then, after the Engineers had closed to within two points, forward Tim Perry ripped off 17 of Temple's next 18. Vreeswyk scored 21 points and Ramon Rivas had 12 rebounds in the Owls' 74-53 victory over Georgetown, which had escaped first-round opponent LSU on Charles Smith's inadvertent board 'n' cord three-pointer at the buzzer.